582 Market St Suite 1103, San Francisco, CA 94104, USA
Welcome to Historic America & UCPlaces’ audio walking tour of Chinatown. We’re glad you could join us! I’m Rachel, Professional History Nerd. On today’s tour, I will guide you through one of San Francisco's most celebrated neighborhoods and introduce you to the many hallowed institutions and historic buildings that have served the local community for almost 200 years. We’re beginning here near the Bart station at Montgomery, but we’re making our way to the iconic gate that marks entry to Chinatown. Use the built in navigation to get to the gate, and I’ll narrate a bit of history along the way. We’re about to step into a world of vibrant colors, sounds, sights, and smells that will immediately transport you a world away. While there are several distinct Chinese neighborhoods in San Francisco, the oldest, and largest Chinatown is right here in the heart of downtown. The earliest Chinese immigrants to the Bay Area came in the 1840s, just before the Gold Rush. This young city on a hill was often referred to as “Gold Mountain,” and just as fortune seekers hurried west across the Great Plains, the Chinese crossed an ocean. Initially welcomed, by 1854, anti-Chinese sentiment pushed the local government to segregate the Chinese residents. Legislation soon restricted the Chinese to reside only in the area around Dupont Street, now Grant Street. At the time, the Chinese population was overwhelmingly male. 12,000 men and fewer than ten women lived in the city! In the 1850s, most of the immigrants worked as miners and prospectors in gold country. By the 1860s, many became laborers working to build the transcontinental railroad. These workers sent the little they earned back to their families in China. In those days, Chinatown was mostly self governing, relying on its own institutions to help settle immigrants and resolve disputes. The community built its own temples, churches, hospitals, and schools. Chinatown was also home to Chinese language newspapers that fought back against anti-Chinese sentiments. Chinatown also had a darkside. At a time prostitution was rampant, the Chinatown-based Tong Gang trafficked hundreds of women from China to San Francisco as enslaved sex workers. Non-Chineese often traveled to Chinatown to patronize both brothels and gambling dens. The 1870s was a time of economic hardship throughout San Francisco, and the Chinese community emerged as scapegoats. Moral panic spread throughout San Francisco, alleging that prostitutes in Chinatown were responsible for spreading venereal disease. In 1877, a riot broke out in Chinatown that left four migrants dead. And in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred almost all new immigration from China. This cruel act permanently cut many of the immigrants in Chinatown off from their families. In 1900, Bubonic Plague broke out in Chinatown and the public health officials' ruthless response also took a toll on the Chinese community. When the 1906 Earthquake shook San Francisco, Chinatown was all but obliterated. The city government conspired to move Chinatown to the fringes of the city but the empress of China intervened and, fearing a loss of trade with China, the city council agreed to rebuild the rubble of Chinatown. On today’s tour, you will see what rose from those ashes. A neighborhood built by fortune seekers, sustained through unimaginable hardship, and endured to its modern role as a center for the Chinese diaspora, Chinatown’s history is both a tragic and triumphant tapestry. We will explore the ways in which the people of Chinatown built a new community, while maintaining connection to homeland. Chinatown is both a thriving local neighborhood and a beloved destination for travelers. As the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese settlement outside of Asia, it receives more annual visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge! It’s the most densely populated area of the United States, outside of Manhattan, and about seven times more dense than the San Francisco neighborhood. Despite San Francisco’s rapid gentrification in recent decades, Chinatown’s population remains over 90% Chinese-American. Very few residents are fluent in English. Chinatown is not a wealthy neighborhood. Many families who live here live below the poverty line. Those who improve their circumstances often move out of Chinatown to other parts of San Francisco or the surrounding cities. The median age among Chinatown’s residents is 50, higher than in any other neighborhood in the city. As we walk through the hustle and bustle, you may feel as if you’d stepped off a plane and landed in Hong Kong. If it weren’t for the towering Transamerica Building to the east or views of Coit Tower farther north, you might forget that you’re in San Francisco at all. Now that I’ve set the stage, let's enter the gate!
500 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
The ornate gate before you marks your entrance to Chinatown. The gate was erected in 1969 as a gift from Taiwan in an effort to improve diplomatic relations with the US. Since then, it has come to epitomize the unique character of San Francisco's Chinatown. Built mainly in Taiwan and covered in beautiful Taiwanese tiles, the Dragon Gate stands as a beacon welcoming visitors under its archways. Designed by Clayton Lee and a team of Chinese American architects, the Dragon Gate is one of the most spectacular and certainly the most authentic of all American Chinatown gates, drawing inspiration from ceremonial gates common in Chinese villages. This gate is built of stone which, while traditional in China, is rare in American Chinatowns where the gates are often made from wood. Notice the supports are flanked by ceremonial guardian lions. The lion on the left is male and has its paw perched on a pearl, a traditional symbol of the Chinese Empire. The lion on the left is female and guards a baby lion symbolizing the people of Chinatown. The top of the gate is decorated with dragons representing power and fertility and the fish represent prosperity. Between the dragons is a ball which represents the earth. A sign written in Chinese hangs above each of the three portals of the gate. The middle sign reads “All under heaven is for the good of the people,” a motto of the Chinese freedom fighter Sun Yat-sen. We’ll learn more about him at a later stop. The left sign reads “respect and love” and the right reads “trust and peace.” The gate is one of the most photographed places in San Francisco, so make sure to snap a selfie before we embark on our exploration of this iconic neighborhood. When you’re ready, pass through the Chinatown gate and take in Grant Avenue, formerly Dupont Street. This block, once the center of San Francisco’s red light district, is now a great place for tourists to grab kitschy souvenirs and inexpensive t-shirts. Peek into the shops as we continue up Grant for one block. I'll meet you at the intersection of Grant Ave. and Pine St. We’re headed to take in the statuary of St Mary’s Square.
Grant Ave &, Pine St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
You’re now standing on the corner of Grant and Pine Streets. Go ahead and cross Pine Street and then turn right. Walk past the red building on your left and you will see the entrance to a park. Walk down the paved path into the park. Take the first right you come to and walk towards the short staircase. Walk up the stairs and across the small playground. Use your navigation as needed. I’ll meet you near the statue of three women holding hands. Proceed in that direction now as I narrate. The people of Chinatown keep close links with their Chinese homeland. Its successes are their successes. Its tragedies are their tragedies. Our next stop commemorates one such tragedy. Beginning with Japan’s imperial expansion in the 1930s and continuing through World War 2, the Japanese military forced thousands of women and girls into sexual slavery throughout the territories they occupied. These women were taken primarily from Japanese-occupied Korea, China, and the Philippines. Some victims were forcibly kidnapped by Japanese soldiers. Others were lured from their families by false promises of work or education. The women were horribly abused by their Japanese captors and survivors often suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives. The victims are known as “comfort women,” a translation of the Japanese word ianfu, a euphemism for prostitute.
415 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
You’re standing at the foot of the “comfort women” memorial. Three girls stand atop a pillar with hands clasped, while a woman looks on from below. San Francisco's “comfort women” memorial was dedicated on September 22, 2017. Its official name is the Column of Strength. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed the project in 2015 hoping that the statue would be a tool for education, conversation, and healing. The three bronze teen-aged girls on the column each represent one of the three major groups of victims. One is Chinese. One is Fillipina, and the other is Korean. All three groups are heavily represented in San Francisco's population. The linked hands of the girls show solidarity and strength. Their eyes gaze back at the viewer with a shocked, perhaps accusatory look. The woman standing nearby is a Korean grandmother representing Kim Hak-Sun, a survivor and activist for the remembrance of the “comfort women.” She was one of the first Koreans to break the silence and speak of her own experiences as a comfort woman. Her efforts helped bring “comfort women” out of the shadows. She devoted her life to trying to end sexual abuse during wartime. Japan has struggled to acknowledge its role in the atrocities of the Second World War. As such, the statue outraged the Japanese government when it was first unveiled. Although Japan has formally acknowledged its wartime enslavement of women and paid some money in reparations, Osaka, San Francisco’s sister city, cut off relations with San Francisco over the statue. Hirofumi Yoshimura, Osaka’s mayor, declared that the statue destroyed the relationship between the two cities. He claimed that the statue was unnecessary given Japan’s apology on the matter. The mayor also contended that the statue unfairly singled out Japanese misdeeds. The memorial also sparked some controversy in San Francisco's large Japanese community. Some Japanese San Fransiscans feared that the statue might lead to anti-Japanese sentiment. Julie Tang, a retired judge and one of the primary advocates for the statue’s creation, answered these fears by asserting that the statue was against all violence against women during wartime. In all, the statue is a powerful reminder of the pain and trauma war inflicts on women. It commemorates the strength and courage of the victims of sexual slavery and also reminds us about how controversial historical remembrance can become. Also notice the memorial by the fence near the center of the square. That is the San Francisco Chinese American War Memorial plaque dedicated to those Chinese Americans who served and gave their lives for the United States during World Wars I and II. The plaque lists the names of those killed and shows the emblems of the different branches of the military represented by Chinese Americans. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars seals are at the bottom of the plaque. Now, retrace your steps back across the playground and back down the steps into the park. At the bottom of the stairs, turn right. Then follow the path around to the left. You will come to a fork in the path. Take the right fork and you will see a statue of a man to your left, this statue is our next stop. See you there!
544 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
This 14 foot stainless steel and red granite statue of exiled anti-imperialist Sun Yat-sen was erected in 1937, designed by sculptor Benny Bufano. Bufano was born in Italy but lived in San Francisco for much of his life, and his works are on display throughout the city. Sun is known to many as the “Father of Modern China.” He worked fervently through the early 1900s to overthrow the Qing dynasty, only to see his efforts rewarded with exile. He fled to San Francisco and, it is said, often relaxed right here in St. Mary’s Square, still one of the most peaceful places in the city, and certainly within the busy and often congested streets of Chinatown. Unfortunately, life in San Francisco was not entirely restful for Sun. Agents of the Qing dynasty were constantly searching for him, and he was often in hiding. This impressive statue celebrates Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a hero to many Chinese-Americans. Sun Yat-sen was a philosopher and freedom fighter who helped bring millennia of imperial rule to an end in China. In recognition of this, Sun Yat-sen is the only figure revered both in the People’s Republic of China, located on the Chinese mainland, and the Republic of China located on the island of Taiwan. Both countries consider him the father of their nation. Sun Yat-sen’s political philosophy is known as the Three Principles of the People. The three principles are Mínzú, translated as independence from foreign domination, Mínquán, translated as the rights of the people, and Mínshēng, translated as the people’s livelihood. Sun Yat-sen was a pivotal figure in the history of China and maintains the same status and adoration among people of Chinese descent all over the world as George Washington does in the United States. This statue stands as a shining beacon of hope and liberty. Use the navigation to exit the park on California Street. You will soon notice the hum of the cable cars, another iconic part of San Francisco history. We’re making our way to the red brick church across the street, St Mary’s.
675 California St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
The cable cars are iconic San Francisco, and the California St. line is the oldest cable car line in the country. Invented by Andrew Hallidie in 1873, the cable cars quickly became one of San Francisco’s most important modes of transportation. This line is the only remaining line of the original three, put in by Leland Stanford, whose mansion was just up the street on Nob Hill. Stanford’s vast fortune was built largely on the backs of Chinese immigrants. He remains one of the Bay Area’s most controversial figures, as the Chinese laborers who laid the track for his railroad business were underpaid, overworked, and mistreated.
707 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
This is St Mary’s Cathedral, one of the longest standing structures in San Francisco. It was once the tallest building in the city! The buildings on this block are direct links to the devastating earthquake of 1906, and to the push and pull of assimilation in Chinatown. St. Mary’s marks the boundary between Chinatown to the east and the Financial District to the west and is the second oldest church still in use in San Francisco. The original cathedral was built in 1854, at the height of the Gold Rush, to convert the population of Chinatown to Christianity. It was the very first cathedral built in California. At the time of St. Mary’s construction, its 90 foot steeple was the most notable landmark in the roughhewn boomtown. The church is in the Victorian Gothic style meant to recall the Middle Ages. You can see this style reflected in the pointed windows and pinnacles on the steeple. The building’s stone foundation was imported from China and the bricks were imported from New England, a blending of east and west. The tower has four clocks, each facing a different cardinal direction. This cathedral was the only building in Chinatown to remain intact in the aftermath of the 1906 quake, although the ensuing fires gutted the inside, the surviving exterior makes it one of the very few buildings that still stands from the days of the Gold Rush. If you look closely, you can see the fire damage on some of the bricks from 1906. The church went on to withstand the 1989 earthquake too, and St. Mary’s continues to serve Chinatown’s Catholic community to this day. You are welcome to go quietly inside the church, even while mass is going on, as there is a designated historical section in the back of the church. Now look across Grant Street and you will see a building built in a markedly different architectural style. The building on the opposite corner is built of brown brick and is decorated with ornate green tiered roofs. Golden dragon motifs gild the top floor. This is the Sing Chong building, one of the originators of Chinatown’s distinct architectural style. I mentioned earlier that Chinatown was nearly wiped out in the 1906 earthquake and that the city government hoped to use the earthquake as an excuse to relocate the city’s Chinese population to the outer fringes of town. Fortunately, the people of Chinatown backed up by representatives of the Chinese government prevented the city council’s scheme from going into effect, and the rebuilding of Chinatown began. The rebuilding effort was led by a local merchant named Look Tin Eli. Look Tin Eli hired a group of non-Chinese architects to invent a new style for Chinatown that would cement the neighborhood as a cultural landmark and tourist destination. The architects modeled their designs off their own, often fanciful, ideas of what traditional Chinese architecture looked like. The Sing Chong building and the Sing Fat building on the other side of California Street, were the first two buildings to be completed by Look Tin Eli’s team. The rooftops of both buildings are reminiscent of pagodas, and both structures are covered in oriental flourishes. These two buildings began a new phase in the history of Chinatown. Nearly every building that came after them was designed to evoke the same fantasy of Chinese architecture as these two buildings. In time, their architectural style became synonymous not just with San Francisco’s Chinatown but with Chinatowns throughout the world and shapes how Americans envision East Asia to this day. Our next stop is the Nam Kue School. Check out the buildings I mentioned across the street and then use the navigation to meet me at our next historic stop.
707 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
Before you is a two story building set slightly back from the sidewalk, behind a black iron fence with red Chinese characters inscribed. Founded in 1919, this is the Nam Kue School, the first school in San Francisco created by Chinese-Americans. Prominent Chinatown businessmen and community organizers decided to build an institution that would teach the Chinese language and culture to the children of immigrants. For the first five years, the school had only one room and one teacher, but by 1924, enrollment was up to 70 students. Funds were raised to build a new school building. Although the original design envisioned five stories, the building stands only at two. It is elegantly built in the new Chinatown style inspired by the Sing Chong and Sing Fat buildings we just saw. The first floor serves as an assembly room, and the top floor contains offices of the Fook Yum Benevolent Society. Fook Yum Benevolent Society played a major role in raising the funds for the school and had previously been active in the fight to rebuild Chinatown following the earthquake. The new building was opened in 1926 with great fanfare. All of Chinatown turned out to inaugurate the school along with representatives from the Chinese government. Until 1980, any person of Chinese descent could attend the school for free. The school's original Chinese language classes have since been supplemented with courses on computer science, calligraphy, martial arts, and dance. Classes are held in the afternoons, on weekends, and over the summer. The current enrollment of the Nam Kue school is around 1,500 students. The school’s motto is “Sincerity, Simplicity, Hard Work, and Love.” Its mission is to instill the virtues of kindness, sharing, love, and leadership in each of its pupils. In its century of operation, Nam Kue has taught nearly 10,000 students who have gone on to distinguished careers in government, engineering, law, and medicine. Since 1919, the Nam Kue school has helped generations of Chinese immigrants adjust to their new country while maintaining and strengthening their ties to their heritage. When you’re ready, use the Navigation to point you in the direction of our next stop. Use Grant Avenue to head towards Portsmouth Square, we will make a quick stop on the way.
857 Commercial St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
This is Eastern Bakery, one of the most popular in Chinatown! Boasting traditional sweet and savory baked goods, this old-school outpost has a humble interior and top tier flavor. Grab a quick bite if you’ve visiting during open hours, and take in some of the murals right outside on Clay street. You can also detour just another block to stand at the base of the iconic TransAmerica building, a dominant feature of San Francisco's skyline. When you’re ready I’ll meet you at the entrance to Portsmouth Square.
707 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
Once you enter the park, find the statue of a woman holding a torch. You will see a 10 ft replica of a much larger statue that many will remember from images of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. Known as “The Goddess of Democracy,” it is one of many such replicas around the world, visual demonstrations of solidarity with the cause of freedom, justice, and democracy in China. The original statue was built from foam and paper mache and stood 33 ft. tall. In April of 1989, as a wave of democracy continued a global sweep, groups of students gathered in Tiananmen Square, just outside the forbidden city in Beijing. The students came to protest corruption and advocate for increased freedom of speech and the end of communism. The students occupied the square peacefully for over a month. By late May, the enthusiasm of the students began to wane, and the leaders of the protest feared that people would begin to leave the square. There the Goddess of Democracy Statue was built, to breathe new life into the protest. The statue was built by students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. They built the statue as large as possible in the hopes that the government would leave it up. While the statue shows many similarities to the Statue of Liberty, the students actually tried not to mimic the American icon in order to avoid accusations of unoriginality or of being too overtly pro-American. The statue’s facial features sport traces of the revolutionary realism taught to the students of the Central Academy. When the authorities got wind of the statue's construction, they forbade any truck from transporting building materials into Tiananmen Square. In response, the students transported the pieces of the sculpture from the Academy of Fine Arts by cart, leaving a fake itinerary to throw the police off their trail. The brave students linked arms around the carts to protect them if the authorities caught on to the ruse. At dusk on May 29,1989 the students uncrated the material and used bamboo scaffolding to erect the statue. Troops were dispatched to halt the construction but they were blocked from entering the square by sympathetic neighbors. By morning the 33 ft. the Goddess of Democracy had risen over the students in Tiananmen Square, silently staring down a large banner of Chairman Mao hanging from a nearby wall. The crowd burst into cheers and chants of “long live democracy!” The statue revived the flagging spirits of the protestors and swelled their ranks from 10,000 people to 300,000. At 1 AM on June 1st, calamity struck. The Chinese army entered Tiananmen Square with tanks and armored cars. The five day old statue was destroyed in the ensuing massacre. Millions of people around the world watched in horror as the statue fell on live TV. it was knocked over by a tank and fell to the ground shattering. Protestors shouted “Down with Facism!” but to no avail as the statue was ground into the pavement by the treads of tanks. That day the Chinese army mercilessly crushed the democracy movement, likely killing thousands of young students. To this day, the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge the massacre. This bronze replica was designed by artist Thomas Marsh and dedicated in 1994. The Goddess of Democracy stands here as a monument to those who gave their lives to free China. Their work remains unfinished. Exit the park, and use the navigation to reach our next stop, the Buddhist Universal Church.
720 Washington St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
This is the largest buddhist Church in the United States. Although not overly impressive from this view outside, I highly recommend taking a tour of the interior which includes an altar in the shape of the ship of Dharma, images of Buddha made of gold and mosaics, a bamboo chapel, and a rooftop garden and terrace where the tranquility in the midst of the busy city is quite palpable. When you’re ready, please make your way to our next historic stop, the Bank of Canton.
754 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
The Bank of Canton was once home to the Chinese Telephone Exchange, a small switchboard operation. When the original building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, it was replaced with this ornate style we’ve been seeing so many examples of. Of course switchboard technology eventually became obsolete, and the building has been a bank since 1960. Our next stop is one of the oldest Chinese temples in the United States, the Tin How Temple. I’ll meet you there.
128 Waverly Pl, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
Before you is a building with a flower shop on the first floor, five Chinese characters on the second floor fire escape, and four characters on the fourth floor fire escape. This is the Tin How Temple. The Tin How Temple is the oldest Taoist temple in Chinatown and one of the oldest Chinese temples in America. Dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu who is called Tin How, or Empress of the Heavens in Cantonese, this temple is a gratitude for Chinese immigrant’s safe passage over the Pacific Ocean. The temple was established in 1852 by Day Ju, one of the first Chinese immigrants to arrive in San Francisco. The original temple was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but the icon of the goddess, the temple altar, and the bell survived. The temple was reopened in 1910 in the new Chinatown style. You’re welcome to enter the temple, it’s at the top of the building and there’s no elevator access, but it is certainly worth the climb if you’re so inclined. At the top of the stairs, enter the temple through a captivating and sensory vermillion room. The stunning interior is lavishly adorned with red lanterns and streamers. The altar to the goddess is kept well stocked with offerings of various fruits. And although you can’t take pictures, the visual of the various altars, and the San Francisco skyline are truly treasured memories. Also of note, and an important part of our story today, the Tin How temple is surrounded by headquarters of various benevolent associations. The benevolent associations of Chinatown date back to the 1850’s and trace deep roots back to Chinese tradition. Their duties and role in the community combine extensive community service work with the pomp and circumstance of secret societies. Benevolent societies have been common in China since the 1600s when the Qing Dynasty overthrew the Ming Dynasty. At the time a number of secret societies were founded to reinstall the Mings. These organizations were especially prominent in the Guangdong region where the majority of the Chinese people who later immigrated to America came from. Each association represented a different ethnic group. In China, the associations would build meeting houses in various cities to support their specific ethnic group as they traveled for business. As Chinese immigrants came to California in search of gold in the 1850s, the benevolent associations followed. Chinese immigrants felt that the US government was doing too little to protect them from white Calfiornians, so they founded their own benevolent societies to fill the void. San Francisco was soon home to six societies that formed themselves into the Chinese Six Companies. In the early years, the Six Companies facilitated Chinese immigration to Calfironia and oversaw the repatriation of the bodies of dead Chinese workers. They cared for the sick and poor and offered legal services to the people of Chinatown. They offered loans, settled disputes, kept a census, opened Chinese language schools like the Nam Kue, and managed remittances to families back in China. The Six companies also organized patrols to protect Chinese people from white miners. They also worked to end prostitution and vice in Chinatown. The leaders of the Six Companies were wealthy merchants who quickly became recognized throughout the United States as the formal representatives of the Chinese community. They also acted as the official representatives of the Qing government for the people of Chinatown. While the Six Companies originally worked to bring Chinese immigrants to America, they soon reversed course. They believed that new waves of immigrants would decrease wages and increase anti-Chinese sentiment. While the Six Companies provided vital support to the people of Chinatown, they were often closely affiliated with the gangs that terrorized it. While formally the Six Companies kept the peace and fought the gangs, in reality many notable Six Company officials were also gang members. Both the benevolent societies and the Tongs had similar power structures, worshiped similar deities, and practiced the same secret rituals. The power of the Six Companies began to wane in the 1960s with the introduction of immigration reform. While the Six Companies had originally represented new immigrants, they now were over 100 years old and represented the established, prosperous, and assimilated Chinese American community. The new immigrants of the 1960s were very poor and unassimilated. A culture clash ensued between the established Chinese American community and the newcomers who did not rely on the Six Companies as earlier waves had done. While the Six Companies do not rule Chinatown as they once did, they still are a central presence in the community. As you can see from their offices, they take great pride in their work and their heritage as stewards of the community. Today they carry on the work of their forerunners and represent the Republic of China in Chinatown. If you look at the roof tops of many of the buildings in Chinatown, you can see the flags of the various benevolent societies blowing in the breeze. Our next stop is Chinatown Presbyterian Church. Use the navigation and I’ll meet you there.
1010 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
You should now be standing in front of the Chinatown Presbyterian Church. This church was the first Chinese Christian congregation in North America. It was founded in 1853 by William Speer, a Pennsylvania born missionary. Speer sailed to the southern Chinese city of Canton in 1847 as a missionary. He returned to the United States in 1850 due to ill health. Upon his return, the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions sent Speer to San Francisco to minister to the rapidly increasing number of Cantonese immigrants seeking gold. In 1853, Speer opened his mission with four members. Throughout the ensuing decades, the congregation attracted more and more Chinese Americans, yet the church was still considered a foreign mission despite its location in the middle of San Francisco. This discriminatory stance was finally reversed in 1925. Use the navigation and I’ll meet you on the corner of Stockton and Washington, where you will see a building topped by an ornate pagoda-style roof with a cross. That's our next stop, the Chinese United Methodist Church.
58 Ross Alley, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA
While not quite as old as its Presbyterian neighbor, the Chinese United Methodist Church has played a similarly vital role in the development of Chinatown. The church was established in 1868 by the accomplished Reverend Dr. Otis Gibson and his wife Eliza. The couple sought to provide refuge to Chinese Americans from the racism and violence plaguing San Francisco at the time. Otis and Eliza were sent to the Chinese city of Foochow as missionaries in 1855. The Gibsons helped establish the first two Methodist churches in East Asia, the Church of the True God and the Church of Heavenly Peace in Foochow. They also opened a western style boarding school for missionaries in the city. Otis Gibson translated the Bible into the Foochow dialect and conducted inspection tours of his converts’ houses to see if they still worshiped idols. In 1864, local sentiments began to turn against Christian missionaries, and the Gibsons returned to the States. In 1868, the Gibsons were sent to San Francisco to minister to the Chinese population. Otis Gibson learned Cantonese, the main dialect spoken by the immigrants. He opened a number of missions throughout the boomtowns and goldfields of California, translated the Bible into Cantonese, and published a Chinese to English dictionary. The missions taught English and helped free Chinese women from slavery. Otis Gibson was a fierce advocate for the rights of Chinese Americans. In 1877, he published The Chinese American, a fiery tractate against anti-Chinese racism. The book concluded “The doors of our country are open equally... We have room for all. Ours is the ‘and of the free, and the home of the brave.’ The oppressed and downtrodden from all nations may alike find shelter here, and under the benign influences of our free institutions, and of our exalted faith, with the blessing of Almighty God, these different nationalities and varying civilizations shall, in time, blend into one harmonious whole, illustrating to a wondering world the common Fatherhood of God, and the universal brotherhood of man.” These views apparently did not apply to Catholics. The reverend remained an unapologetic anti-Catholic until the end of his days. The Gibsons’ original San Francisco mission was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but by 1911, it had been replaced by this building in the new Chinatown style. The church continued to be a neighborhood institution through the 20th century. It was the headquarters of the Chinatown Boy Scout troop and of the Hip Wo Chinese School which passed on Chinese language and culture to new generations. Today the church continues to offer Cantonese and English classes. It is fondly regarded by many Chinatown locals as a second home.
1020 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA
We’re headed to our final stops on today's tour. Proceed downhill on Jackson Street. Keep an eye out for the opening of an alley on your right, that’s Ross Alley, our next stop. Chinatown’s network of crowded alleys have defined its character since the earliest fortune seekers tried their luck at Gold Mountain. Ross Alley has the distinction of being the city’s oldest, dating back to 1849. The alley is named for an early entrepreneur Charles Ross, who ran a merchant exchange close by. During the 19th century, the alley was crammed with illegal dens, brothels, opium rooms, and gambling houses. Some of the gambling houses sported iron doors to protect against police raids, moral crusaders, and any other unwelcome visitors. The alley has been featured in several films including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Big Trouble in Little China, and Karate Kid II, I’ll see you there!
58 Ross Alley, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA
You’re standing at the opening of Ross Alley between Shuang Li Trading Co. and Yu’s Chinese Herbs Co. Enter the alley and walk down to the blue awning of Jun Yu’s Barber Shop. Jun Yu’s Barber Shop is a renowned local institution and Jun Yu is an unlikely local celebrity. Jun Yu has cut the hair of many famous visitors to San Francisco's Chinatown including Frank Sinatra, San Francisco native Clint Eastwood, and Paul McCartney. Jun Yu made his debut on the silver screen in 2006 acting beside Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness. He also appeared on The Bachelor's 2010 season. When he is not tending to the locks of the rich and famous, Jun Yu sits outside his shop and fills Ross Alley with the beautiful notes of his erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument. If you are lucky, you might catch him outside today. Now look to the right of Jun Yu’s and you will see the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, a favorite of all Chinatown visitors. Like most of what Americans consider Chinese food, the fortune cookie has its origins in California and is nearly unknown in China. The origin of the fortune cookie is shrouded in mystery with many institutions claiming to be the inventors of the precognitive treat. In fact the origin is so contentious that in 1983, the case of the origin of the fortune cookie was brought before the San Francisco Court of Historical review. The first theory traces the origin to Los Angeles where it is said that David Jung, a Chinese immigrant and owner of the Hong Kong Noodle Company, invented the cookie to pass out to the poor with a little Bible verse inside. Two other theories trace the cookie’s origin to San Francisco. The first states that the cookie was invented by Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant. Makoto Hagiwara was an avid gardener who designed the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Around 1900, Hagiwara was fired from his gardening job by the anti-Japanese mayor of San Francisco. After a new mayor reinstated him in 1914, Hagiwara made a batch of cookies with thank you notes tucked inside for all those who had stood by him after his firing. He continued to sell the cookies at the tea garden and exhibited them at the San Francisco World’s fair in 1915. The other San Francisco origin story traces the cookie to Chinatown. With the rebuilding of Chinatown in the new Chinatown Style following the 1906 earthquake, local officials sought to turn the neighborhood, once known as a hotbed for crime, into a tourist destination. To this end, Chinatown developed the decorations, architectural flair, and pageantry you see today. And, so the story goes, the neighborhood acquired its own dessert to suit the taste of the tourists. A worker in the Kay Heong Noodle Factory developed the little folded cookie and stuck predictions or sayings on the inside to sell to tourists. A fourth theory actually does trace the origin of the cookie back to 13th century China. In that century, China was invaded and occupied by the Mongols. During the occupation, Chinese revolutionaries communicated by hiding secret messages inside pastries. The secret messages aided in the overthrow of the Mongols and the establishment of the Ming Dynasty. The annual Moon festival commemorates this victory and during the festivities pastries are eaten containing little bits of wisdom baked within. This tradition came to the United States with Chinese gold seekers and railway workers. Chinese working on the transcontinental railroad substituted their biscuits for the traditional mooncakes giving rise to the modern fortune cookie. New research suggests that the fortune cookie may originate from Japan. A Japanese woodcut from 1878 depicts a street vendor frying fortune cookies. In fact, fortune cookies are still sold in Kyoto although they are larger and darker than their US counterparts and are made of a savory miso paste rather than a sugary dough. Regardless of the cookies’ origin, they became a staple at American restaurants in the late 40s. Chinese cooks found the little treats to be the perfect way to economically satisfy the American sweet tooth. Over the years, the cookies have contained fortunes, sayings, Bible verses, quotes of Asop, Confucius, and Ben Franklin, jokes, advice, lottery numbers, smiley faces, and even advertisements. In 1989, fortune cookies were introduced in Hong Kong as “genuine American fortune cookies.” The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is one of the last places where the cookies are made by hand. The factory has been in operation since 1962. The factory makes 10,000 cookies a day based on a secret family recipe known only to one person. Workers have only seconds to put the fortune in the cookie and fold the dough into its delicate shape before the cookie hardens. The building itself dates back to 1907, making it one of the first buildings built after the earthquake, and one of the oldest in Chinatown. Anyone is allowed to go in and watch the skilled workers and antique machines turn out the delicate cookies; however, if you plan to take a photo, it will cost you 50 cents. They may also give you a fresh sample in exchange for your donation. In 2016, the city government officially declared Golden Gate Fortune Cookie a “legendary business” for its preservation of the traditional method of making fortune cookies by hand. This concludes our tour today. San Francisco's Chinatown is a testament to the vibrance, pride, and resilience of Chinese Americans. Generations of Chinese immigrants left their homes and families to find a new life across the Pacific. When they arrived they built a thriving community that weathered racism, disease, and the 1906 earthquake. The people of Chinatown have never lost their time honored connection to the traditions of their homeland while forging lives as proud Americans. Today we looked at the many institutions that keep this beautiful neighborhood one of the wonders of San Francisco. If you would like to explore more, beyond the historic Chinatown, cross Broadway on Stockton. Stockton street is often considered “the real Chinatown”, where locals shop at fish markets, spice shops, vegetable stands, and more! Wherever your journey takes you next, we thank you for joining us! This tour has been a joint production of Historic America and UCPlaces. To learn more about our trip planning services, public & private tours and digital content make sure to visit us at www.historicamerica.org and to find more audio tours, go to historicamerica.org and UCPlaces.com.